How About Harmonizing?

author: SethMegadefan date: 07/26/2005 category: music theory tips
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Have you ever sat down, wrote a song, played a melody, and thought to yourself, "This is good, but it needs to be spiced up"? I know I have. That little extra pizazz you're looking for is probably a little music lifesaver called harmonizing.

What Is Harmonizing?

Okay, okay, I'm sure most of you here already know what harmonizing is. But, I am here to educate, so for those of you who don't know, read closely. Harmonizing is playing a different set of notes on top of one set of notes to create what is called harmony. Now, harmony can be attained by experimenting with many different types of harmonization. Sorry, am I not clear enough? Don't worry, there's more.

What Harmony Sounds Good?

Well, there are many different types of intervals you can experiment with that will create good harmony with your original set of notes. What's an interval, you ask? An interval is the distance between two different notes. These intervals also have names. Here are a few common intervals you may or may not already know of:
  • Unison - This is the absolute easiest interval to remember. Let's just say you have another guitarist playing with you. For the other guitarist to play the set of notes you're playing using the unison interval, they should play exactly what you are playing. Simple, huh?
  • Minor Third - A minor third is just three semi-tones, or half-steps, above the root note. For instance, a minor third above an A would be a C.
  • Major Third - A major third is four semi-tones, or two whole steps, above the root note. Using A as an example again, the major third above would be a C#, or Db.
  • Perfect Fourth - A perfect fourth is five semi-tones above the root note. In most cases it will be on the same fret as your root note on the very next string. This makes it easy to play both notes at the same time. Sticking with A, the perfect fourth above would be a D.
  • Perfect Fifth - Also known as the "power chord", this interval is located seven semi [tones above the root note. It is very popular in almost all rock music. Using A once again, the perfect fifth above is an E.
  • Octave - The octave is twelve semi-tones above the root note. An octave is exactly the same note as your root, only transposed up to a higher pitch. So, obviously, the octave of an A would be another A. Okay, now that we've cleared that up, let's get on to actually harmonizing.

    Choosing Which Intervals To Use

    Well, this is easier said than done. Whichever intervals you want to use are completely up to you. Just don't get too crazy, for not all intervals sound good to harmonize with, especially depending on the key of your song. But, you can always use your knowledge of keys and intervals to your advantage. Let's say your song is in a minor key. Then it would be smart to use, say, minor thirds to harmonize with, right? Major intervals in a major key, you get the point. And never be afraid to switch around. Go from minor thirds to octaves, go from major thirds to perfect fifths... you never know what brilliant harmony you may produce.

    Where Do I Use Harmony?

    The brilliant thing about harmony is that is sounds great nearly anywhere. Your rhythm parts can be harmonized, your solos can be harmonized... you could have a song with absolutely no harmony except for the bridge. Maybe just the intro. Maybe just the outro. No matter where you harmonize, your listeners will never cringe at the effect, you simply can't go wrong with it! Alright, I know what you're thinking, and I'm way ahead of you there.

    What Songs Using Harmonizing Could I Practice To?

    Hey, before you get to actually writing harmony parts, you're going to want to know a few beforehand, right? I know how you feel. I think I can muster up a few songs to which you can "jam" and learn a few things.
  • A lot (and I stress this point; a lot) of Iron Maiden songs use harmonizing. If I may name a few, "Twilight Zone", "Die With Your Boots On", "The Trooper", "Aces High", "Flash Of The Blade", "Powerslave", and "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner"... and those are only a few!
  • "The Boys Are Back In Town" by Thin Lizzy. The little bits right after each chorus and the bridge all use harmonizing.
  • "Killer Queen" by Queen. The solo near the end has brilliant harmonizing. A great solo to practice to.
  • "Wherever I May Roam" by Metallica. The bridge is an excellent harmonizing part; it sounds great and is great practice, especially for beginners.
  • "Hangar 18" by Megadeth. The main riff is a great-sounding harmonizing riff; not only that, it can be easily done with just one guitarist, saving the hassle of trying to get both of you in perfect rhythm. Well, I'm sure there are more, but those are the only ones I can think of offhand. And there you have it. Hope you understand harmonizing a little better now. Keep in mind that in almost all cases you're going to need two guitarists; sorry, but that's just the way it is. Unless you're really, really good, a second guitarist is practically mandatory. I couldn't possibly tell you how long it took me to get down "The Boys Are Back in Town" by myself. Practice practice practice. Just remember that the only thing better than playing in harmony is listening to it.
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